Sixteen weeks ago, when the gravity of the situation became clear, we started daily reporting on how brands were dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. What’s now becoming clear is that the current climate is one of near-perpetual disruption. So we made the decision to keep on telling the stories of inspiring brand leadership and strategy amid the latest crises in an anxious world. Our goal remains the same: to provide an up-to-the-minute source of information, inspiration and insight on brand moves as they happen.
Johnson & Johnson brand Band-Aid, which was founded in 1920, announced this week that it will launch a new range of inclusive bandages that don’t just match white skin. “Band-Aid is dedicated to inclusivity and providing the best healing solutions in colors that recognize a range of skin tones,” said Megan Koehler, communications leader at Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health. “We’ve made a commitment to launch a range of bandages in light, medium and deep shades of brown and black skin tones.” The Band-Aid brand also announced it will also donate $100,000 to the Black Lives Matter foundation. Parent company Johnson & Johnson said on June 2 that it plans to allocate $10 million over the next three years to fight racial injustice in America. The 100-year-old brand has come under criticism over the years for marketing its ubiquitous product in shades that only match very light skin colors. Frustration among communities of color led to competitive marketing from challenging brands like Ebon-Aide, Browndages and Tru-Colour. In 2005, said Koehler, Band-Aid launched a line with multiple skin tones called Perfect Blend, but the product was later pulled “due to lack of interest at the time.” Koehler also pointed to the brand’s Clear Strips line of transparent bandages, launched in the 1950s, which are “designed to be used by people with a variety of skin tones.”
Unilever has pledged to invest €1bn (£900m) over the next decade in environmental projects that will improve the “health of the planet”. Alan Jope, Unilever’s chief executive, said that while the world was rightly focused on the devastating coronavirus outbreak and serious issues of inequality raised by the Black Lives Matter protests, the climate emergency should not be overlooked. “We can’t let ourselves forget that the climate crisis is still a threat to all of us,” he said. The consumer goods giant, which owns more than 400 brands including Marmite, Dove, Comfort and Sure, said that in response to the “scale and urgency of the climate crisis”, it was also setting a target of net-zero emissions from all its products by 2039. Unilever said its €1bn “Climate & Nature Fund” would be used to fund projects ranging from landscape restoration and carbon capture to wildlife protection and water preservation. Jope has warned that the company would sell off brands that could not meet its own sustainability targets. It was no longer enough for consumer goods companies to sell washing powders that made shirts whiter or shampoos that make hair shinier, because consumers wanted brands that had a “purpose” too, he said.
Starbucks is accelerating plans to convert its shops’ layout to favor of pickup. The coffee shop chain announced last week it will “increase convenience-led formats” in the U.S., including both drive-thru and curbside pickup options, over the next 18 month. As part of this, it is closing 400 North America locations, while adding a total of 300 net new stores in 2020. This will also apply to the growing number of Starbucks Pickup locations, with all locations being integrated with the app. For decades, the brand positioned itself as a venue for working and socializing, but now, many of its shops’ seating area designs makes complying with social distancing guidelines difficult. While Starbucks began experimenting with pickup-only locations over a year ago, it’s now positioning them as facilitators of “on the go experiences.” This includes further increasing its Uber Eats delivery availability, along with the physical renovation of some store layouts. The remodeling will feature the addition of a dedicated counter for mobile orders at stores with high volume, which is expected to ease crowding among customer and courier pickups. Starbucks’s investment in mobile orders and its digital rewards program was already paying off pre-pandemic. In February, Starbucks confirmed that its Mobile Order & Pay program first introduced in 2015 has seen an increase in customer adoption. In the first quarter of this year, Starbucks mobile orders accounted for approximately 17% of transactions in the U.S., according to its earnings – up 16% year-over-year, reaching 18.9 million active U.S. members. It also noted that during peak hours, about 5,400 stores had been seeing over 20% of transactions come in via mobile order. The new Pickup locations go a step further than those that already integrate digital order pickups. Not only will the retrofitted stores not allow seating, but customers will only be able to purchase items by placing orders through the Starbucks or Uber Eats app.
Meanwhile, others are making increased investments in store experiences that limit in-person interactions. In March, right at the start of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, Amazon announced it will begin selling its cashless checkout technology to other retailers. It’s been quickly implemented during the pandemic by OTG-owned restaurants, which are mainly located at airports. In mid-March, the group rolled out its “Just Walk Out” cashierless checkout, starting at Newark Airport’s Cibo Express Gourmet Market, with more to follow later in the year. OTG, which operates about 350 hospitality locations, also has a partnership with Starbucks to expand the chain’s presence throughout U.S. airports. Earlier this year, seamless checkout gained more traction with 7-Eleven beginning tests of its own cashierless store format.
As sister brand Walmart continues to offer curbside pickup at 3,100 of its 4,700 U.S. locations, membership warehouse Sam’s Club said it is now rolling out its own version at its nearly 600 U.S. locations by the end of June. The pickup service enables customers to order online to receive contact-free delivery to their cars. Sam’s Club is offering it as a free perk to its Plus-level members, who pay an additional $55 a year for incentives like 2% cash back on qualifying purchases, as well as free shipping and early shopping hours at select stores.
Shoppers with standard $45-a-year Club memberships will be able to use the service “for a limited time” with limited time slots. Sam’s Club previously piloted the service at 16 stores. The retailer said it is speeding up rollout following a growing desire among members for the convenience option. “As we continue to innovate to make the shopping experience better and faster for our members, we’re proud to be able to quickly implement and offer curbside pickup across the country, particularly during a time when they are searching for alternative ways to shop,” Sam’s Club COO Lance de la Rosa said. Rival warehouse store Costco has seen an uptick in demand since the coronavirus pandemic started. So, too, has Walmart, which reported ecommerce sales were up 74% in Q1.
Xerox has commissioned a study of IT and tech decision-makers, which found that 82% of the workforce is estimated to be back in the office in the next 18 months. 72% of those surveyed said their companies weren’t ready, from a technology perspective, for the shift to remote work. Almost a third said technology was their company’s single biggest pain point in the process. Data security ranked as the #1 reason for returning to the office. Xerox also found that most companies are at least re-evaluating their tech budgets, and confirmed a trend towards cloud-based business tools.
In a bid to lessen the blow of COVID-19, the town of Tenino, Washington (population: 1,884) has started issuing its own wooden dollars that can only be spent at local businesses. The local currency program works like this: Residents below the poverty line can apply to receive money from the $10k fund that Tenino has set aside. Wayne Fournier, the mayor of Tenino, says they also have to prove that the pandemic has impacted them, but “we’re pretty open to what that means.” Once approved, they can pick up their stipends, printed in wooden notes worth $25 each. The city is capping the amount each resident can accrue at 12 wooden notes – or $300 – per month. The spending comes with a few restrictions: Residents can’t use the money to buy cigarettes, lottery tickets, or alcohol. The currency is designed for the essentials, including food, gas, and daycare. Almost every business in town accepts the wooden notes, and twice a month, they can submit redemption requests to the city to turn the notes into cash. But why print the money on wood? Why not just give residents $300 worth of federal dollars? The answer is simple: By creating its own local currency, Tenino keeps the money in the community. As Fournier puts it, “Amazon will not be accepting wooden dollars.” “The money stays in the city. It doesn’t go out to Walmart and Costco and all those places,” said local shopkeeper Joyce Worrell. Closing down business these last few months, Worrell says, was “a catastrophe for a lot of us.” But she has rallied around the wooden currency as a way to revitalize the local economy. “A lot of the people in our city work for places that hire low-wage help, part-time help, so they’ve been out of work this whole time,” Worrell says. “This shows that we’re doing something as a community to really step in and help.”